Roger Corman’s “Women in Cages”

Pam Grier behind bars

Pam Grier made her first bid for B-movie stardom in the exploitation films for Roger Corman. The Women in Cages Collection: The Big Bird Cage / The Big Doll House / Women in Cages (Shout! Factory) is a trio of women in prison films, all of them featuring Grier, all of them knocked out in the Philippines. Grier takes her first lead in the Jack Hill-directed The Big Doll House (1971), a minor classic in the genre that established the new rules of the game: abusive guards, lots of showers, late night groping, and the payback prison break. It’s pure exploitation and bit mean spirited, but it was a smash hit and started Corman’s New World Pictures in the WIP exploitation biz. Hill’s superior semi-sequel The Big Bird Cage (1972) elevates Grier to top billing as a mercenary/revolution​ary in an unnamed South American country who (with partner Sig Haig) engineers a women’s prison break from the outside. Why? Because their rag tag soldiers are looking for revolutionary sisters to join their cause… and their beds. This is pure B exploitation powered with oddball humor—Grier and Haig’s first heist is a corker—and energetic action. The 1971 Women in Cages, made between the two Hill pictures by veteran Filipino director Gerry (Gerardo) de Leon and featuring Grier as the sadistic head matron in a women’s penitentiary, fills out the triple feature.

The two-disc set features entertaining commentary by director Jack Hill (originally recorded for an earlier DVD release) on his two films. (My favorite tidbit: the location for the prison in Bird Cage was later used by Francis Coppola for Kurtz’s compound in Apocalypse Now, where it looked much darker and more menacing.) New to the set is the 48-minute documentary “From Manila With Love,” a detailed look at the making of The Big Doll House and The Big Bird Cage, the films that reworked the WIP film as tawdry drive-in exploitation genre and launched Corman’s New World Pictures.

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